Oxbridge students will have a new addition to their introductory workshops this year: don’t touch drugs, don’t play with matches, and don’t sexually abuse fellow students. Naturally many of the countries brightest students are offended by the compulsory class. No means no, it’s a pretty clear concept after all.
However, the workshops are not there to inform students that sexual harassment is wrong, they are there to inform students that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
Nearly every girl I know has been unwillingly groped, slapped or cat-called at some stage, but no one I know has ever reported such an event. The problem is not that the small minority of men that do these things think that it’s okay, it’s just they know they will get away with it.
Groping is of course far less serious than rape, however they are both in the ‘sexual harassment’ category because they both spring from the notions of theft and entitlement. Sex and attraction are big parts of university life and this is a good thing, but problems arise when people feel they are too superior to play by the rules.
Take club culture. In many ways sex is at the centre of the clubbing scene. People dress up, whether it is in the form of a tight dress, a suit or sleeveless shirt, because they want to be considered attractive (even if just in general). Most of the music is sexually orientated, a lot of grinding and questionable dance moves will be taking place and people will be drunk and therefore more confident. It is the perfect environment to flirt and attempt to ‘woo’, so to speak.
Part of the fun comes from the fact it’s a lot like a game, or exchange. Whether by being sexy, funny, charming, cute or just plain weird, people can attempt to attract the attention of anyone they want. They may succeed or of course they may epically fail.
This game is not the problem, the problem arises when people think they are above having to earn the attention and consent of the person they are attracted to. An individual who goes around groping people clearly does not feel that they should have to put any effort into gaining consent.
They are superior to the game, rules and other players and can get what they want by force. This person is more likely to be a man only because our society has a long history of men having more power than women. If a woman chooses to look sexy or act flirtatiously then she has a certain amount of power, touching her sexually irregardless of her consent therefore rids of her of this power and reaffirms that of the man. This having been said the issue is not unique to heterosexual men.
The huge majority of men of course wouldn’t want to grope a woman even if they knew they wouldn’t get punished, 99.9% wouldn’t dream of raping a woman even if it was legal and most men really don’t want to sleep with a girl verging on paralytic. In an ideal world, just like theft, there would be no need for sexual harassment laws to be in place or enforced.
However, the fact that so many people are still experiencing harassment shows that this is definitely not the case. A small member of individuals still feel that they are entitled to get what they want even if it means ridding another person of the intrinsic right to their own body.
Until there is universal respect therefore, universities must protect their students by enforcing the rules they have in place. If a workshop is needed to remind all students that sexual harassment will not be tolerated then, whilst this is sad, it is definitely for the best.